Coding Issues Land Life-Saving Doc Behind Bars
Orient says Natale made errors in "two of 2,400 operative reports." That, she says, is "apparently now a federal crime, though the doctor's total charges were much less than he could have lawfully billed." She did not reveal the total charges.
The complexity of the coding and the requirements of the physicians didn't seem to be the problem, as far as the sentencing judge was concerned. "It's hard for me to imagine that there was some motivation other than to pad the bill in Dr. Natele's operative notes," said Judge Pallmeyer in her sentencing report.
Since Natale has been imprisoned, Orient hasn't talked to him, but has stayed in touch with his family. Natale is trying to stay busy in prison by teaching GED students, and "reading as many books as he is allowed to have," she says.
Natale has appealed his conviction, but the odds are that "he will probably never practice medicine again," Orient says.
"Who would want to," she asked, "when you can go to prison—for paperwork errors—10 years after you saved patients' lives?"
Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.
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